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The Federal Summary Judgment Standard Comes to Florida State Courts on May 1, 2021

December 31, 2020

Last year, the Florida Supreme Court signaled its intention to adopt the summary judgment standard articulated in the Celotex trilogy, by directing the parties in Wilsonart, LLC v. Lopez, SC19-1336, 2019 WL 5188546 (Fla. Oct. 15, 2019) to brief the issue in that case. After having the benefit of the briefings submitted by the parties and numerous amici in Wilsonart, today, in a decision amending the Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510, the court adopted the summary judgment standard articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986); Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986).

The court noted that despite the consistency of purpose and text between Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), the Florida and federal summary judgment jurisprudence have not been aligned. The court articulated three major differences that have prompted its decision to align Florida’s summary judgment standard with that of the federal courts and of the majority of states that have already adopted the federal standard. First, Florida courts have repeatedly declined to recognize the similarities between the standard for directed verdict and the one for summary judgment, whereas the federal courts have held that the summary judgment standard mirrors the directed verdict standard. Second, Florida courts have put the burden on the moving party to conclusively disprove the nonmovant’s theory of the case in order to eliminate any issue of fact, whereas federal courts have held that the moving party’s burden may be discharged by showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmovant’s case. Thus, under the federal standard, the movant’s burden varies depending on who bears the burden of proof at trial. Third, Florida courts have adopted an expansive understanding of what constitutes a genuine issue of material fact, with the “slightest doubt” sufficient to preclude summary judgment, whereas the federal courts’ inquiry focuses on whether the evidence could lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmovant.

The court concluded that the federal summary judgment standard better serves the purpose of the rules of civil procedure “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.” Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.010. The court agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court that the summary judgment is not a disfavored procedural shortcut but a means to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses, and reiterated the well-settled principle that summary judgment is not a substitute for trial of disputed facts.

The standard will become effective on May 1, 2021 to allow for an opportunity for public comments.

Read the court’s opinion here.

Read Mihaela’s previous article, originally published in the FDLA Trial Advocate, Volume 39, No. 2.The Days of the “Scintilla” of Evidence Summary Judgment Standard in Florida are Numbered here.”